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New challenge in fight against sex selection

A new scourge confronts the Haryana authorities in their fight against pre-natal sex determination. Chromosome segregation or sperm sorting, which coupled with assisted reproductive technology such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is used to get a male offspring, is that challenge.

punjab Updated: Jan 28, 2015 10:23 IST
Hitender Rao

A new scourge confronts the Haryana authorities in their fight against pre-natal sex determination. Chromosome segregation or sperm sorting, which coupled with assisted reproductive technology such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is used to get a male offspring, is that challenge.


The first cases of the use of this technology for gender selection came out in December 2014 at Panipat, where a leading hospital was proceeded against. “We came to know that many couples with daughters were regulars at its fertility clinic, which raised suspicion,” said Panipat chief medical officer Dr Inderjit Dhankar said, adding: “Since only infertile or childless couples go for IVF (where woman’s eggs are combined with man’s seed or sperms outside the uterus or womb), why were these couples, who had children already, were visiting the fertility clinic?”

The move to send decoy customers did not work, so began a painstaking exercise of interviewing many couples who had been to the clinic. “It was difficult track every couple, and then they were reluctant to speak,” said the CMO. The officials then concluded that the hospital offered them chromosome segregation with IVF to guarantee male children.

“Some couples with two daughters already would also visit the centre, attracted by its success rate of more than 80%,” said Dr Dhankar. The hospital’s ultrasound centre is now sealed and its owners asked to show cause under the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act why their registration should not be cancelled or suspended.

The matter is before the appropriate authority. The hospital had applied for registration of an IVF centre but did not have permission for running the facility. “We kept asking the hospital for the IVF-clinic records but it didn’t respond. The health department also tried to catch an IVF clinic in the national capital region (NCR) suspected of similar act but could not succeed,” said Dr Dhankar.

Chromosome story

Chromosome is a structure inside the cell;s nucleus containing long, tightly coiled strands of DNA wrapped around proteins. The gender of an offspring is determined by the chromosome characteristics. The male sperm actually is responsible for whether the child will be a boy or a girl. The egg in a woman’s ovary have only X chromosomes, while the male sperm contains both X and Y chromosomes. If the sperm carrying an X chromosome fertilizes the egg, a girl child will be conceived; and if the sperm carrying Y chromosome fertilises the egg, a boy will be conceived.

Techniques

Ericsson method: Used for pre-conception sex selection, involves separation of sperms bearing X and Y-chromosomes through a filtration process. The ovum (egg cell) is then fertilised with a high concentration of the sperm bearing the desired chromosome. Technique is based on the view that Y-bearing sperm (conceiving a boy) is lighter and swims faster as compared with the X-bearing sperm (conceiving a girl). The Ericsson method separates the lighter, fast-moving, boy-producing sperm from the heavier, slower, girl-producing sperm.

How it is done: The man’s semen is put in a test tube on top of a sticky protein liquid, albumin. The tube is then placed in a centrifuge and spun for separating the heavier X sperm from the lighter Y. The X sperm generally end up at the bottom of the tube, while the Y settles at the top. The woman is then inseminated either with the male-producing sperm using intra-uterine insemination or her eggs are fertilised in a laboratory and the resulting embryo placed into her uterus using the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique.

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD): One of the latest and costlier technologies with potential for misuse for sex selection, involves the removal of a few early divided cells from a test-tube embryo that are then subjected to chromosomal analysis to identify the embryo’s sex. Because of prohibitive cost, it is unavailable in all IVF centres.
How it is done: It can virtually guarantee the gender of one’s choice, as the embryos are tested for it before being implanted in the womb. After fertilisation of the eggs by a sperm in the laboratory, genetic testing is done on the resulting embryos to determine the sex of the unborn child, and the doctor is in a position to implant only embryos of the “desired” sex.

The law

All sex-determination technologies, including chromosome segregation, come under the ambit of Section 3 of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which says that no person, including an infertility specialist, shall conduct or cause to be conducted, or aid in conducting sex selection on a woman or man or both or any tissue, embryo, conceptus, fluid or gametes derived from either or both.

Source: Union Ministry ofHealth and Family Welfare, Center for Enquiry in Healthand Allied Themes, andgenderselectionauthority.com